You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
James’ discussion of faith and deeds continues in these verses; it seems that James has heard a lot of silly talk. He gives us some evidence for his assertion that deeds must accompany faith, citing Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac when God told him to do so. Yes, Abraham had faith in abundance, and as a result of that faith, he was willing to respond in obedience to God’s command.
Of course, we know the end of the story, God provided a substitute for Isaac, and Abraham passed his test of faith. As a result of that, the saying that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” was a true one, and James’ conclusion is that we will be declared righteous by what we do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Of all of the possible examples of active faith in the Old Testament, James picks the one involving a Gentile prostitute, an interesting choice, but then James is the one who was just teaching us about favoritism in the last chapter. You might also recall that the author of Hebrews used these two examples as well, and that is one reason some have theorized that James could be the author of Hebrews.
Rahab’s story is told in Joshua 2. It seems that she recognized the God of the Israelites as the true God, and when she encountered the spies, even though they were strangers, and even though she took a great risk, she saved them and aided greatly the fall of Jericho. Thus, because of her faith in the true God of Israel, she acted and is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. Once again, James draws his conclusion: Faith without deeds is as dead as the body without the spirit.
I have noted the arguments that result from these kinds of statements often enough and I won’t get into that again here. Rather than argue for our doctrinal position as opposed to another doctrinal position, I would hope that by now we can look at this passage and others like it, and ask instead what this tells us about our walk with Jesus. I can tell you one thing for sure: If all we can do with this text is argue, then our faith is dead! James is trying to teach us that our faith in Christ, our love for God and our position as Christ’s Ambassadors have nothing to do with debates ad arguments, for in debating amongst ourselves, we are not sharing His love. If we can’t stop fighting, we can’t share Christ…